Wednesday, January 16, 2008

getting there

So at long last I feel like my brain is getting back into the homeschooling process properly.
I don't know what the problem has been; I feel like I've been teaching through a fog for the last five months, and while Rachel's reading skills are advancing nicely, whille she's getting good at making connections and recurring motifs in literature, and while she's doing decently in math, I've still been frustrated with the lack of anything that's really engaged her -- or that felt like I was particularly engaged with her, for that matter.
There are a lot of things that could be behind that. I suspect that I had some sort of breakdown following the loss of our son five years ago, and the resultant strain on just about everything else that matters. The spiritual breakdown this spring certainly had a lot of its roots in that, as well.
Anyway, I think I'm on the road to getting all my marbles back into the right places. Hopefully I haven't screwed up too much other stuff by having no one tend the shop for as long as I have.
The cogs that clicked into place today were a moment of inspiration that came while I was lamenting how I haven't taught Rachel much of any science. I thought of a chart I'd seen at Gary Barker recently that detailed the phases of matter (gas, solid, liquid, for anyone keeping track). It was a handmade chart, the sort of thing any teacher can whip up in a minute or less, and fill in with student participation.
All at once it came to me, a chart of the five different kinds of vertebrates, with Rachel writing different examples under each category.
How to get her interested? Not a problem. I had her pull out a set of wooden blocks we own for a memory/matching game, with different animals on each block, then asked her to sort them out however she wanted. After she had sorted them, we started discussing why she had grouped them the way she had -- she had grouped dogs and cats together; put the snake, worm, snail and turtle in another group; and linked lions and tigers in a third, for example -- and as we went, she started regrouping them so the classification would make more sense.
Once that was finished and we agreed that her classification made sense -- and it was involved, with turtles now being placed next to the snails (both have shells) but not in the same column, since turtles have legs, while snails, snakes and worms slither -- I asked if I could regroup them again. Which I did, based on the kind of ear each creature had.
That cracked her up, and once we finished, Rachel reordered them once again, based on whether she liked them, and we went back and forth a few times, until I was confident she got the idea and was enjoying it.
And that was when I trotted out the concept of taxonomy, told her that scientists had ordered life into five kingdoms, including plants and animals, and that those kingdoms were each broken down into smaller groups. Once that was done, we discussed what made something a mammal, and pulled out each mammal from the assortment of blocks. Then Rachel and I made a chart, and she wrote the names of some mammals under the appropriate category.
Tomorrow I figure we'll review, and then we'll work on reptiles. We'll also start drawing some pictures of the animals (art), and eventually visit the county zoo over on River Road.
What with my earlier brainstorm about using Looney Tunes for music appreciation, I think I'm getting my wits back.

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